I have a number of concerns about the way that this "conversation" on pornography has been laid out. First I'd like to question Robert Cavalier and even Dewey's understandings of the free market of ideas--"that open forum where ideas clash and human truth emerges." My concern over the "open market" of ideas is in an odd way also part of my concern over pornography. Both the open market of ideas and the MacKinnon/Dworkin position on pornography dichotomize the world in ways that do not allow for multi-positionality. That is, they both posit one rather than multiple layers of "truth" that can at the same time over-lap, conflict and argue. As a historian, rather than a philosopher, I am more comfortable discussing pornography than Deweyan models of discussion, and I will focus my comments there: The anti-pornography definition of pornography as "verbal or pictorial material which represents or describes sexual behaviour that is degrading or abusive to one or more participants in such a way as to endorse the degradation" seems problematic because 1) it is ahistorical and 2)it does not address the issues of contingency or multi-positionality. Implicit in the way that anti-porn feminists have been trying to frame the debate is the understanding that pornography hurts all women all the time-- "it is a lie about who women are and what they want." The universality of women does not allow for multiple processes of identity formation that hinge on class, race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, etc. Instead, the universality of women and its solely gender-based analysis takes precedence over the other ways that people make meaning from their lives.(Furthermore, I think that it makes a middle class perspective universal). This pattern of trying to establish an over-riding universal truth does not allow us to see actions, representations, and meanings as multi-faceted. To give you an example... I've been working extensively with late nineteenth and early twentieth century pornographic postcards. These cards often used representations of women to make specific class-based attacks on the aristocracy and bourgeoisie. By doing so, they degrade women. But that is not all that they do. They also locate sources of oppression in the social structure and attack symbols of that oppression. A postcard from 1905 features a view of the back of a woman in a riding coat and hat.(Milford Haven Collection of Postcards" Catalogue, card 354 (Milano: No. 16 U from the house of Dulio Rainero, 1905.)) However, in the illustration the womanys buttocks was replaced with a horseys buttocks. The dimpling of the haunches of the horse and the pinkish color of the horse's coat make the transposition of buttocks--the visual replacement of horse for woman-- more pronounced. The relaxed tail completed a visual illusion of a woman with a huge, exposed buttocks complete with an overly wide furrow (the tail). The aristocratic woman became grotesque through the transposition of fleshiness and in the mixture of animal and human parts. The card hinted at the grotesque indulgence of the aristocratic classes, visually labelling them as over-endowed, over-fed, and over-concerned with animals to the point of bestial preoccupation. In this case, I would argue that the representation used an aristocratic woman to make specific criticisms of social privilege. I think it speaks less to "women" universally, then it does to "aristocratic women" or the aristocratic class and women's position as leisured within that class. Nonetheless, I think this example fits the anti-porn feminists' definition of pornography because it certainly degrades women and it encourages the viewer to think of women in degraded terms. However, seeing only "women" and "degredation" here misses the point. Trying to define pornography in dichotomized (rather than culturally contingent) terms avoids the complexity of the culture from which pornography emerges.
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